Try These On For Cys Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez are neck and neck in the American League Cy Young race. Too bad nobody's paying attention

September 13, 1998

Pedro Martinez, who splashes around in the shallow end of the
Boston Red Sox' weekly NFL pool, sat at his locker in the
visitors' clubhouse in Toronto last Friday busily circling his
selections and sharing startling insights you just can't get
from any 900 number. He liked Atlanta ("They've got the best
rotation," Martinez said), Pittsburgh ("Greg Lloyd signed a
football for me"), Miami ("Great weather") and St. Louis
("McGwire...ahhh") and took 48 points as his Monday-night
tiebreaker because his brother Ramon, the Los Angeles Dodgers
righthander, wears number 48. "Here's a winner," he announced
with as much cheek as conviction.

There was another sporting contest at the SkyDome heading into
last weekend that was a pick 'em: the American League Cy Young
Award race between Martinez and the Toronto Blue Jays' Roger
Clemens. This was a confounding one because, being people,
neither of them possesses great weather. Anyway, in the spirit of
Martinez's system of personal preference, we can think of
compelling reasons that favor each of the front-runners: Pedro
("Sent Rolex watches last week to his former manager and coaches
in Montreal as a token of appreciation") and Roger ("Hit balls to
his sons on the field after the game last Thursday").

The serious, break-out-your-calculator stuff? Entering the
four-game series, the only spread between the 36-year-old Clemens
and Martinez--the 26-year-old righthander Boston acquired last
winter, after an appropriate one-year mourning period, to replace
the Rocket--was the two days between their starts. If you took a
snapshot last Saturday night, Clemens had a minuscule edge,
though New Yorkers might argue that Yankees lefthander David
Wells, who was 17-2 with a perfect game, might make this whole
thing an exercise in rock-paper-scissors. Martinez left after
giving up three runs in seven innings last Thursday in a game
Boston would lose to the Blue Jays 4-3 in 11 innings, but Clemens
trumped him with his 18th victory on Saturday, also 4-3. Clemens
allowed two runs on three hits and struck out 11 in eight
innings, tying Martinez and three others for the major league
lead in wins; moving eight strikeouts ahead of Martinez, with a
league-high 227; lowering his ERA to 2.62, also a league best and
0.09 better than his rival; and whittling his opponents' batting
average to a puny .192, a comfortable .026 ahead of Martinez's.
Martinez, who at 18-4 has two fewer losses, is a close second in
almost all those categories, nothing a shutout can't rearrange.
Wells, meanwhile, is fifth in the league in ERA at 3.22, but he
has more complete games (seven) and shutouts (five) than the
other two contenders. With four or five starts left for each, the
only thing certain is that 28 voting baseball writers can't take
Pedro and the points.

Of course in the era when you bought bleacher seats because they
were affordable and not an investment strategy, a Cy Young race
featuring such luminaries--Clemens could be the first five-time
winner and Martinez could be the first pitcher to win in
consecutive years in different leagues--would be the talk of
baseball. Instead it's a sideshow. Too bad. Clemens and Martinez
are the mirror image of Mac and Sammy; one an all-American hero,
one a Dominican role model, two power guys on the cusp of
unclaimed territory, yet they aren't being heard over the sonic
booms.

There is no end to the indignities dealt to pitchers in the name
of record pursuit. Consider Clemens. He was about to ring up a
club-record 18th strikeout against Kansas City on Aug. 25 when
TSN, the cable network showing the game in Canada, shoehorned the
Rocket into a box in the corner of the screen, without sound, and
cut to McGwire even though Mac was only swinging for homer number
54.

Clemens hasn't lost since May 29. He was warming up in the
Toronto bullpen before his next start, on June 3, when he
glanced at the scoreboard and saw his mediocre 5-6 record.
Clemens has put up big numbers in his career--he passed 3,100
strikeouts last Saturday--but nothing quite as huge or
unflattering as the ones in lights that night. He turned to
pitching coach Mel Queen and said, "That's embarrassing. That's
not me." True. Clemens was not himself.

On April 7, against the Minnesota Twins, he had left after
seven pitches with a pulled groin muscle. Over his next nine
starts he recovered slowly from that injury, which robbed him of
some leg drive. But there were tugs on an even more sensitive
muscle, his heart. His grandmother, Myrtle Lee, had died before
spring training; his mother, Bess, was battling emphysema back
in Texas; and his wife, Deb, was hospitalized briefly early in
the season. Clemens was flying back and forth to Texas,
shuttling between his job and his life. "I've always preached to
teammates, especially to the starters, that we owe it to the
other guys in the clubhouse every fifth day to put everything
else aside, personal stuff, financial stuff, whatever," Clemens
says. "I think I did, but some of the people around me"--Queen
and Toronto manager Tim Johnson--"thought they could see a
slight difference in my intensity level."

Since his brief bout of scoreboard shock, Clemens hasn't lost.
Not only has he been brilliant during a streak of 13 wins in 18
starts--including eight games with at least 10 strikeouts, and
no homers allowed since July 12--he has also been resourceful.
When the Jays dumped high-priced closer Randy Myers on Aug. 6,
Clemens more or less took over as his own closer, allowing 28
hits and seven earned runs while pitching three complete games
in his last seven starts. After three straight shutouts, he left
after eight innings last Saturday (his team-record streak of
scoreless innings had been stopped at 33 by a two-run Boston
fifth) but not before tidying up by striking out Mo Vaughn and
getting MVP contender Nomar Garciaparra to tap to third.
Clemens, approaching 120 pitches, started Garciaparra, his final
batter, with three fastballs: 99, 98 and 97 mph on the Blue
Jays' pitching chart. "That's why he's at another level, the
best I've ever seen," Johnson says. "When I went to the mound
before Vaughn hit, I asked Roger if he had enough left. He said
he wanted those two guys. Like I'm going to tell him anything at
that point other than 'Go get 'em.'"

Clemens has earned that kind of latitude in Toronto, where former
team president Paul Beeston, now the No. 2 man in Major League
Baseball, promised him that the Blue Jays would try to honor his
trade request if they ever rebuilt. The 36-year-old Clemens, who
is signed for two more seasons, never made one, though before the
July 31 trade deadline he did ask general manager Gord Ash if the
trades of Myers and third baseman Ed Sprague constituted
"reloading" rather than "rebuilding." In late July several
teams--reportedly including the Red Sox--inquired about Clemens,
but Ash never found a fit. The most attractive offer came from
the Yankees, but, Ash says, "that was reactive and not proactive
on their part." Translation: If Randy Johnson had gone from
Seattle to Cleveland, Clemens might have been on his way to the
Bronx.

He could still be moving this winter even though his pitching
has helped nudge Toronto, winner of 10 straight at week's end,
back into the wild-card race. Ash won't have his 1999 budget
until the end of the month, and if the Blue Jays, buffeted by a
65-cent Canadian dollar, are going to lie low for a year, well,
Clemens could go from Cy Young to sayonara (as Yankees third
baseman Graig Nettles said of teammate Sparky Lyle two decades
ago). "I've been blessed with four of them, one for each of my
sons," says Clemens, who won the award last year, his first in
Toronto. "But really, my goal every year is just to be one of
the best two or three guys in the league. The thing that matters
is giving my team a chance to win." Toronto is 20-9 in his
starts, a game behind the Red Sox' 21-8 when Martinez pitches.

So who should it be, Rocket or scissors?

There is only one person with the hands-on experience to make an
enlightened call, but Darrin Fletcher won't go there. "They both
have an understanding of their stuff and know what they can and
can't do on the mound," says Fletcher, who caught Martinez's
300th strikeout last year and nine perfect innings against the
Padres in '95 and Clemens's 3,000th career strikeout and 18-K
vaporization of the Royals this year. "With Pedro last year I had
three choices--fastball, curve, changeup--and to be honest with
you, any one of them could have worked; it was like, Let's just
pick one. I was talking to [Atlanta's] Chipper Jones about how to
hit Pedro. What you have to do is almost pick a pitch, stick with
it the whole at bat or even the whole game, spit on everything
else and hope you get the pitch you're looking for. Roger's like
that with his two-seamer [fastball], four-seamer and forkball.
That's to compare them. To contrast them, Roger's more of a
gunslinger, a Nolan Ryan type, a typical, established big league
pitcher who probably wouldn't, for example, put on a Yoda mask."

Martinez did put on a Yoda mask in the dugout for a half inning
late last month, cracking up teammates. "He has to do something
to amuse himself between starts," reasoned Boston pitching coach
Joe Kerrigan, who was Martinez's pitching coach in Montreal for
three seasons. Martinez doesn't put on airs but has put on, in
addition to that mask, a uniform top borrowed from reliever Jim
Corsi and teammate Rich Garces's tentlike pants. He has also worn
an Indian feather in his cap during batting practice. Clearly
Martinez has evolved beyond the hothead who would, in Montreal
manager Felipe Alou's phrase, "get the devil in him" and rear
back and fire when frustrated.

There are still occasional flashes--he drilled Minnesota's Matt
Lawton on Aug. 23 because he suspected that the outfielder was
stepping out of the box solely to disrupt his rhythm, a ploy
Martinez loathes--but he seems more sure of himself and of his
stuff. His out pitch remains the change, which, at the last Red
Sox count, he was throwing for strikes at a startling 67% rate,
but he has added a cut fastball in the past two months, making
even Fletcher's knowledge dated. By Kerrigan's count Martinez
threw 109 pitches in a 6-1 win over the Anaheim Angels on Aug.
29, a Whitman sampler of 31 fastballs, 25 curves, 26 cutters and
27 changes. The Angels' Gary DiSarcina said, "He was nasty and
abusive out there. I've never seen him throw so many breaking
balls on the corners."

"See, I've won a Cy Young, and I've made a lot of money, and the
only thing that means anything now to me is getting to the
playoffs," Martinez says. "They can give it to Roger or to one of
the New York guys [Wells or David Cone, who was 18-5 with a 3.58
ERA through Sunday]. I'll be in the Dominican when they announce
it. The only thing that matters is the team winning, winning,
winning."

The Red Sox' lead in the wild-card race fell to five games on
Sunday with another loss, 8-7, to the Blue Jays. In Boston, the
cradle of fatalism, all bets were off.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID LIAM KYLE OVERPOWERING A 13-0 record and three shutouts in his last 18 starts could earn Clemens a record fifth Cy Young. [Roger Clemens pitching] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN REID III/MLB PHOTOS COMPETITIVE EDGE A Red Sox playoff berth could swing voters to Martinez. [Pedro Martinez pitching] COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON UNBEATABLE Wells's 17-2 record and perfect game will be hard to ignore. [David Wells pitching] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO SMOKIN' At 36, Clemens still packs enough heat to lead the league with 227 strikeouts. [Roger Clemens holding ball]

Close, but No Cygar

Among the contenders for the American League Cy Young Award,
Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez were, at week's end, almost
inseparable statistically. In the 10 seasons listed here, there
was at least one pitcher who finished within one victory or .10
of an earned run of the Cy Young winner. (On two occasions, in
1960 and 1984, the Cy Young winner won one game less and had an
ERA slightly higher than one of his competitors, but in each of
those cases the award winner had helped his team reach the
postseason.)

Year-League Cy Young Winner/Stat Rivals Record ERA

1984-NL Rick Sutcliffe, Cubs 16-1 2.69
Dwight Gooden, Mets 17-9 2.60
1982-AL Pete Vuckovich, Brewers 18-6 3.34
Dave Stieb, Blue Jays 17-14 3.25
1981-NL Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers 13-7 2.48
Steve Carlton, Phillies 13-4 2.42
Tom Seaver, Reds 14-2 2.55
1976-NL Randy Jones, Padres 22-14 2.74
Jerry Koosman, Mets 21-10 2.70
1970-NL Bob Gibson, Cardinals 23-7 3.12
Gaylord Perry, Giants 23-13 3.20
1964-ML Dean Chance, Angels 20-9 1.65
Sandy Koufax, Dodgers 19-5 1.74
1960-ML Vern Law, Pirates 20-9 3.08
Ernie Broglio, Cardinals 21-9 2.74
1959-ML Early Wynn, White Sox 22-10 3.17
Sam Jones, Giants 21-15 2.83
Warren Spahn, Braves 21-15 2.96
1958-ML Bob Turley, Yankees 21-7 2.97
Lew Burdette, Braves 20-10 2.91
Warren Spahn, Braves 22-11 3.07
1957-ML Warren Spahn, Braves 21-11 2.69
Jim Bunning, Tigers 20-8 2.69

From 1956 through '66 there was only one award winner for the
major leagues.

SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

[BOX]

Playing the Percentages

In this, the Year of the Slugger, some outstanding seasons by
pitchers have been overshadowed. Through Sunday 10 pitchers had
a winning percentage of .700 or better and had won at least 10
more games than they had lost. The most such performances in any
previous major league season was 10--in 1884, 1963 and 1993.
Here is this season's elite class, plus six more who could still
join that group.

PITCHER, TEAM RECORD PCT.

David Wells, Yankees 17-2 .895
John Smoltz, Braves 14-3 .824
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox 18-4 .818
Kevin Brown, Padres 18-5 .783
David Cone, Yankees 18-5 .783
Roger Clemens, Blue Jays 18-6 .750
Tom Glavine, Braves 18-6 .750
Rick Helling, Rangers 17-7 .708
Greg Maddux, Braves 17-7 .708
Kevin Tapani, Cubs 17-7 .708

NEARLY MEET THE CRITERIA

Al Leiter, Mets 14-5 .737
Andy Ashby, Padres 16-7 .696
Tim Wakefield, Red Sox 15-7 .682
Shane Reynolds, Astros 17-8 .680
Jose Lima, Astros 14-7 .666
Rick Reed, Mets 16-9 .640

SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

Winning for Losers

To the victors do not go all the spoils! With three weeks left
in the season, the Blue Jays were 24 1/2 games behind the
Yankees in the American League East, yet Toronto's Roger Clemens
was bidding for the Cy Young Award. If form holds in the
standings and the Rocket gets his record fifth award, the Blue
Jays would be further out of first place than all but two of the
teams that produced Cy Young winners. Here are the top 10 in
that category.

CY YOUNG WINNER (RECORD), TEAM YEAR GB

Steve Carlton (27-10), Phillies 1972 37 1/2
Randy Jones (22-14), Padres 1976 29
Pedro Martinez (17-8), Expos 1997 23
Roger Clemens (21-7), Blue Jays 1997 22
Roger Clemens (20-9), Red Sox 1987 20
Pat Hentgen (20-10), Blue Jays 1996 18
Greg Maddux (20-11), Cubs 1992 18
Bruce Sutter (37 saves), Cubs 1979 18
Dean Chance (20-9), Angels 1964 17
Steve Bedrosian (40 saves), Phillies 1987 15

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)